May 2016

Online gambling 

It's happening more and more often - live betting odds being offered by online betting agencies in local sport leagues. It's happened in Canberra soccer football leagues and in Victorian gridiron competitions. Think it can’t happen to your sport or in your local area? Think again.

Australia is a nation of gamblers. Per capita we lose more money to gambling than any other nation in the world. That makes us a magnet for betting agencies looking for new ways to separate punters and their money. So, what’s wrong with placing a bet on a local league game? What harm can it do and is there any benefit in it for grassroots clubs?

What the law says

Most forms of gambling are legal in Australia and regulation of the industry rests largely with the states and territories. It’s a complex set of laws that varies between jurisdictions and it’s opened the way for a poorly-regulated industry to thrive. Now, thanks to the internet, sports gambling is borderless and largely beyond the control of governments anywhere. 

In short, if an online betting agency wants to offer odds on a local amateur sporting fixture there is very little any government can do about it and the club or clubs concerned don’t need to be informed.

The case for online gambling in amateur sport

A blanket ban on non-professional sport gambling may seem like a simple and effective solution, but there are many who claim this would create more problems than it would solve.  They argue that:

  • Wagering on sport at all levels goes on now and will continue to do so even if a ban is in place;
  • Illegal, under the counter betting will flourish, opening the door to criminal influences;
  • A transparent bookmaking industry provides opportunities for regulation and control;
  • Gambling taxes provide revenue for the government;
  • Betting agencies are heavily involved in sports sponsorship and there is potential for local clubs to generate much-needed funds in the same way.

The case against online gambling in amateur sport

Most of the arguments in the ‘no’ camp focus on the harmful effects of gambling, already evident in our community:

  • Opening up amateur sport to online gambling just encourages a habit that has many negative side-effects.
  • Thanks to the prevalence of betting advertising during sports broadcasts, children already think of sport in terms of odds. Extending that to local sport would just reinforce the idea that sport and betting go hand-in-hand.
  • Sports betting is already a popular ‘drug of choice’ for problem gamblers and it is often young males who are most at risk.
  • A lack of money in local leagues increases vulnerability to match-fixing attempts. The highly-paid elite player may be able to resist the temptation of a big bribe, but what about the club-level player on an apprentice’s wage or the volunteer referee who only gets reimbursed for costs?
  • We should be protecting sport and the interests of the wider sporting community against match-fixing and corruption.

What about your club?

So, where do you stand? What about your club? What would you do if a betting agency started offering odds on your club’s matches? What if they offered a lucrative sponsorship deal?

The first thing any club should do is have a serious discussion about the issue and decide on a policy. Consult your national sporting organisation to determine their position and talk to your members to find out what they think. There are a few clubs and leagues who are already dealing with the issue. Do your research, contact them and ask questions.

If you are against gambling in amateur sports or fearful that it could ruin the integrity of your sport, don’t just hold out for legislative change because that may take a while. For the moment we have to rely on the integrity of local players and officials to keep sport fair. There are some things your club can do to encourage fair play, including:

  • Ban players and referees from betting on matches or competitions in which your club is involved.
  • Develop a gambling policy to ward against corruption and include penalties for breaches of conduct.
  • Get involved in campaigns to reduce gambling addiction.
  • Encourage integrity and honesty and a sense of fair play at your club. Include these qualities in your club’s Code of Behaviour.
  • If your club is unhappy about a betting agency offering odds on matches in your league, gather support from other clubs and go to the media. Bringing the issue to the attention of the public may help to dissuade further activity.

Here are some links that may help in your research of this complicated, but important issue: